- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

Lady lawmakers, politicians, candidates, officials and presidential wannabes: behave and be noble. Teenage girls are watching.

Magnified by the press, the female politician is a role model for adolescent women, according to a study released Wednesday by the University of Notre Dame, inspiring political interest and even future voting behaviors in young women.

“A highly visible woman politician in the future — perhaps even as the top of a major party presidential ticket — has the potential to generate significant interest in political activity,” note authors David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht.

The concept of women holding office comes at a complex cultural moment, however. Actress Geena Davis — who played a president on ABC’s “Commander in Chief” — plans to appear at the National Press Club to address “the importance of women leaders to the future of America’s democracy.” A spokesman said yesterday that Miss Davis will share the dais with members of the White House Project, a District-based interest group promoting, yes, a lady president and feminine leadership.

A billboard emblazoned with “Welcome to South Carolina, ranked first in violence against women and 50th in women in elected office” stood by Interstate 85 for six months. The sign was privately financed by Anne Ring, a Woodruff resident who hoped to publicize the fact that less than 9 percent of the state’s 170 lawmakers are women.

Meanwhile, the recent political maneuvers of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, irked conservatives, who are suspicious that her appreciation for values and religion was a shameless appeal to voters. But feminists also took her to task. Susan McGee Bailey of the Wellesley College Centers for Women said that though Mrs. Clinton has succeeded in a man’s world, she has used traditional feminine ploys to get there.

“Hillary very much stood by her man,” Ms. Bailey told the Baltimore Sun, referring to Mrs. Clinton’s experiences as first lady during her husband’s sex scandals.

But Mr. Campbell and Miss Wolbrecht say the phenomenon of female politicians benefits teenage girls because of their emotional — and girlish — natures. The study authors found that girls react more emotionally to the media-driven hubbub of politics than boys.

“Female candidates lead girls to have greater confidence in political institutions. Because fellow women are involved in politics, girls may view political institutions as more responsive to their concerns and worthy of their trust,” the authors say.

Female politicians also inspire productive girl talk, leading girls to “envision” themselves as political participants.

“Girls and their peers may react to the presence of female politicians by adding politics to the list of topics they discuss among themselves, and that they will discuss with their teachers and parents,” the authors continue. “The singular importance of discussions at home underscores the primary role played by the family in the process of political socialization.”

The authors based their conclusions on an analysis of Monitoring the Future, a yearly survey of 16,000 high school seniors that plumbs their views on drugs, alcohol, tobacco and, to a lesser extent, politics. The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study will be published May 25 in the Journal of Politics.

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